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Government denies cover-up of outbreak's gravity

China’s Wuhan abruptly raises number of virus dead to 3,869, an increase of 50%

Local official says early cases, non-hospitalized deaths not identified as COVID-19 fatalities; questions have long swirled around the accuracy of China’s case reporting

In this Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020, photo, medical workers move a person who died from COVID-19 at a hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province. (Chinatopix via AP)
In this Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020, photo, medical workers move a person who died from COVID-19 at a hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province. (Chinatopix via AP)

BEIJING — The central Chinese city of Wuhan raised its number of COVID-19 fatalities by 1,290, with state media saying Friday the undercount had been due to the insufficient admission capabilities at overwhelmed medical facilities at the peak of the outbreak.

China denied Western suggestions it had covered up the extent of its coronavirus outbreak and rejected US allegations it has an overly cozy relationship with the World Health Organization (WHO).

Wuhan’s revised death toll of 3,869 is the highest in China. Numbers of total cases in the city of 11 million were also raised by 325 to 50,333, accounting for about two-thirds of China’s total 82,367 announced cases.

The official Xinhua News Agency quoted an unidentified official with Wuhan’s epidemic prevention and control headquarters as saying that during the early stages of the outbreak, “due to the insufficiency in admission and treatment capability, a few medical institutions failed to connect with the disease prevention and control system in time, while hospitals were overloaded and medics were overwhelmed with patients.

“As a result, belated, missed and mistaken reporting occurred,” the official was quoted as saying.

Workers inspect masks at a production line of the Wuhan Zonsen Medical Products Co. Ltd. in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province April 12, 2020 (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

The new figures were compiled through a comparison of data from Wuhan’s epidemic prevention and control big data system, the city funeral service system, the municipal hospital authority’s information system, and the nucleic acid test system to “remove double-counted cases and fill in missed cases,” the official was quoted as saying.

New death cases were added because non-hospitalized deaths had not been registered at the disease control information system and some confirmed cases had been reported late or not been reported at all by some medical institutions, the official said.

Questions have long swirled around the accuracy of China’s case reporting, with Wuhan in particular going several days in January without reporting new cases or deaths. That has led to accusations that Chinese officials were seeking to minimize the impact of the outbreak and wasting opportunities to bring it under control in a shorter time.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian acknowledged Friday that the virus’s rapid spread had contributed to the undercounting, but insisted that “there has never been any concealment, and we’ll never allow any concealment.”

US President Donald Trump has questioned China’s handling of the pandemic and whether it had been completely transparent since the virus emerged in the central city of Wuhan late last year. On Thursday, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and French President Emmanuel Macron also expressed doubts about China’s virus response.

Zhao said such miscounting was to be expected in the initial stages of a major disease outbreak.

US President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House, April 14, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Trump — under fire himself for initially denying the seriousness of the pandemic — has accused the WHO of doing the same and being too trusting of China’s assurances over the outbreak. On Tuesday he announced a suspension of US funding to the world body.

Asked about the US allegations, Zhao defended the WHO and China.

“I think they are all smearing China and cooking up stories about China,” he said, without specifying which countries he was referring to.

China has largely brought the contagion under control domestically via tough measures including the unprecedented lockdown of Wuhan and tens of millions of people in surrounding areas, but not before it spread worldwide.

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